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YouTuber Vocal Synthesis says rappers label Roc Nation filed copyright notices against their AI impersonations

Jay-Zs company Roc Nation have filed takedown notices against deepfake videos that use artificial intelligence to make him rap Billy Joels We Didnt Start the Fire and Hamlets To be or not to be soliloquy.

The anonymous creator of the YouTube-hosted videos, known as Vocal Synthesis, has said that copyright notices were filed by Roc Nation, stating: This content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our clients voice. The two aforementioned videos have been removed, though others remain, including one of the rapper taking on the Book of Genesis.

Vocal Synthesis said via a deepfake video using the ersatz voices of Barack Obama and Donald Trump that they had no malicious purpose and were disappointed that Jay-Z and Roc Nation have decided to bully a small YouTuber in this way.

The Guardian has contacted Roc Nation for comment.

Deepfake videos have already caused great controversy in political and celebrity circles, with California outlawing them in 2018, and Facebook banning them in January. The technology has most notoriously been used to create fake pornographic videos featuring famous actors the PornHub website banned deepfakes in 2018.

Deepfakes differ from so-called cheapfakes, which dont involve AI and instead feature re-edited footage with the aim of distorting the truth. Famous examples include a video of Nancy Pelosi doctored to make her look drunk, and one of Keir Starmer created by the Tory party for social media where he appeared unable to answer a question. Posting on Twitter this week, Donald Trump shared a fake gif of Joe Biden sticking his tongue out.

There are debates over the copyright implications of AI-created videos such as the Jay-Z performances, with digital access advocates Creative Commons arguing: It is ill-advised to force the application of the copyright system an antiquated system that has yet to adapt to the digital environment on to AI.

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With Katy Perry and Led Zeppelins recent judgments reversing previous rulings, musicians dont know which way to tread

Have you written a song? A song so memorable that everyone who hears it starts humming it? A song so good it feels as though it has been around forever and you simply plucked it from the ether? Then a word of advice: get an expert to listen to it. Because somewhere, someone is going to be sure your song was copied from theirs.

An old music industry adage holds that where theres a hit, theres a writ. It was true in 1963, when the Beach Boys released Surfin USA, and Chuck Berry duly noted that the song was simply his own 1958 hit Sweet Little Sixteen with new lyrics (Berrys publisher, Arc Music, was granted the publishing rights, and from 1966 Berry was listed alongside Brian Wilson as a writer of the song). And its especially true now after several recent cases.

March alone saw two important judgments about music theft in appeals courts in California. First the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled that Led Zeppelins Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Then a federal court overturned last years jury verdict that Katy Perrys Dark Horse had stolen from the song Joyful Noise by the Christian rapper Flame.

Katy Perry performing Dark Horse in Los Angeles in 2014. A federal court in March overturned a 2019 verdict that the song had stolen from Flames Joyful Noise. Photograph: Youtube

Whats important, though, is not whether anyone was plagiarised, but whether a copyright was infringed. Plagiarism and copyright infringement are related but they are distinctly different, says Peter Oxendale, who has been a professional forensic musicologist someone who offers expert analysis of compositions for legal purposes for more than 40 years.

Copyright, for example, does not protect ideas but rather the fixed detailed expression of those ideas. Copyright infringement is a legal matter known as a tort, he says. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is an ethical matter and occurs when someone uses the ideas or works of someone else in their own work without giving the appropriate credit to the original source. The cases that come to court are not about plagiarism; theyre about infringement of copyright.

Members of Led Zeppelin pictured in 1970. A US appeals court has found the bands Stairway to Heaven did not crib from Taurus by Spirit. Photograph: AP

The Zeppelin and Perry cases have been hailed as important because they appear to offer songwriters the latitude they seemed to have been denied by a crucial earlier trial. In December 2018 the long-running and highly controversial case involving the song Blurred Lines came to a close, when Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams, two of the songs writers, were ordered to pay just short of $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye, for Blurred Lines similarity to Gayes 1977 song Got To Give It Up.

Blurred Lines certainly stirred up the music community, says Joe Bennett, a forensic musicologist based at Berklee College of Music, in Boston. The reason it had so many musicians concerned is that the two songs are demonstrably different in their melodies, lyrics, and underlying chords. It hasnt set a legal precedent exactly, because every plagiarism case is judged on its individual merits, and every comparison is different, but it certainly has shifted the culture among songwriters, and made many worried about unintentional similarity leading to unfair accusations of copyright infringement.

What the Blurred Lines case did was to allow something previously unheard of: the notion that the feel of a record could be copyrighted. Given that the musician who didnt want to replicate the feel of a beloved record, if not its chords and melody, has yet to be born, the verdict sent shudders through the industry.

Much of the feel of a song is created by instrumentation, production techniques and other elements that many people consider to not be part of the song itself, says Peter Mason, a music law expert at the solicitors Wiggin LLP. The difference is starkly demonstrated by comparing Blurred Lines to the Stairway to Heaven case, in which the jury was limited to considering only the notes of the composition, as registered at the US copyright office.

Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams performing at Miami Beach, Florida, in 2013. A court in 2018 ordered them to pay $5m to the estate of Marvin Gaye. Photograph: Startraks/Rex

Taking away the similarities in sound, feel or playing style reduced the similarity between the compositions. Importantly, much of what remained was commonplace and therefore not protected by copyright.

Nevertheless, says Oxendale, We are aware of a number of well-known clients who have been told to never cite the source of their inspiration in public or in print. This, in my view, has resulted in the stifling of creativity to the extent that inspiration is now being confused with appropriation.

Conversely, we are also seeing a growing number of instructions from clients who wish to pursue claims for infringement of copyright based on the use of nothing more than similar musical or lyrical ideas. I believe the Blurred Lines verdict has had a significant impact on the music industry as a whole and this is reflected in the number of cases coming into our office.

For all the high-profile court cases, though, many music copyright infringement claims never see the light of day. One major star who must remain nameless employed a musicologist for the specific purpose of listening to new releases in order to note any resemblance to their own works. The writer of any offending song received a polite note expressing the desire to avoid any embarrassment, and suggesting the whole matter might be resolved by a payment, without the need to shame the writer by going public or forcing a change to the songwriting credits.

Since the Blurred Lines case, notes Mason, other songwriters have pre-empted litigation by adding writers who might conceivably have had a claim to writing credits famously, Mark Ronsons worldwide hit Uptown Funk ended up with 11 writers. The average number of writers on hit songs has increased dramatically over the last five years or so, Mason says, and part of this is due to composers agreeing to add the authors of past songs that are somewhat similar.

Why, though, do all the best-known copyright infringement cases come from the worlds of pop and rock? After all, one rarely hears of classical composers fighting it out in court, or jazz players arguing furiously about whether one has ripped off the others saxophone solo.

I think there are two reasons, Bennett says. First, popular song is a constrained art form, with a palette of statistically predictable phrase lengths, song forms, scale and chord choices, lyric tropes and song durations. These norms are largely defined by market forces, through massed listener preferences over time affecting the kind of creative decisions that songwriters are likely to make.

Beyonc presesnting the award for record of the year, Uptown Funk, to Mark Ronson during the 2016 Grammy music awards. To avoid litigation, the song was credited with 11 writers. Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty

Its a type of cultural Darwinism, in a sense, but thats not to diminish the songwriters art writing a world-class hit is incredibly difficult, and needs everyone in the artists production team to excel.

Second, pop is where the money is. A plagiarism lawsuit is a financial matter party A is pursuing party B for compensation, so theres little point in going after someone whose work has not generated significant income.

You might think, of course, that musicians and songwriters are pinching from each other all the time weve all listened to songs and been reminded of something else. There are some artists, in fact, who seem to have made careers out of sounding like someone else: neither ELO nor Oasis would deny their respective debts to the Beatles.

Sometimes, though, musicians dont even realise they are borrowing. On a recent edition of the Reply All podcast, Princes longtime recording engineer Susan Rogers remembered him sitting at the piano and picking out a melody. He liked it, he noted. But had it already been written?

Subconscious recollection is called cyrptomnesia, and it has been responsible for some notable copyright infringements: in the 1976 case where George Harrison was sued for the similarity of My Sweet Lord to the Chiffons Hes So Fine, the judge described the similarity as an example of unconscious copying. Sam Smiths Stay With Me ended up getting Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne added to its writing credits, because of its similarity to their song Wont Back Down, and Petty observed, without rancour: All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by.

As Bennett puts it: Most melodic similarity is coincidental, and most accusations of melodic plagiarism are unfounded. In the rare cases when the similarity is so striking that it appears to be evidence of plagiarism, then yes its usually unintentional. Songwriters have almost zero incentive to copy melodies verbatim, and enormous economic disincentives to do so.

The miracle, perhaps, is not that there are so many accusations of musical copyright infringement, but so few. Consider that thereare just 12 semitones in an octave. Or think about how many songs that derive from the blues use the 1-4-5 chord progression (Twist and Shout; Blitzkrieg Bop; Louie Louie and Wild Thing and thousands more). What makes a song special is not its chords, or its top-line melody, or its lyrics, or its feel. It is how it combines all those elements.

Listeners dont hear songs as simple linear sequences of pitches they hear everything all at once, and its that combination of elements, in a recording or at a live show, that produces the powerful emotional response that we find so intoxicating, Joe Bennett says. If the cultural value of a song subsisted only in its melody, the world wouldnt need performers, lyricists, producers, or artists.

And, as everyone sitting in their living room gazing at the empty world outside knows, the word really does need all those people, for the sake of its sanity.

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Jacobs lawyers argue that case against him has numerous deficiencies, in dispute over smiley face logo that appears in his designs

Fashion designer Marc Jacobs has filed a lawsuit against Nirvana, after he was sued by them for breaching copyright of their smiley face logo and signature font in a T-shirt design.

The original lawsuit was filed against Jacobs in January, accusing him of being oppressive, fraudulent and malicious in creating the designs, which, it was argued, threaten to dilute the value of Nirvanas licenses with its licensees for clothing products.

Jacobs attempted to dismiss the suit in March. His lawyers argued that the smiley face was a commonplace image and that while the designs were inspired by Nirvanas 1990s concert T-shirts, his designs did not infringe copyright as they sufficiently deviated from Nirvanas.

Earlier this month, a California judge allowed the case to move forward. Jacobs has now responded with a countersuit, arguing that there are numerous deficiencies with the case.

Chief among these alleged deficiencies is that it is not clear who designed the bands logo. The original Nirvana lawsuit claimed it was designed by late frontman Kurt Cobain in about 1991 it first appeared on a flyer for a release party celebrating the album Nevermind, and would later adorn the bands T-shirts. But in depositions during the lawsuit, surviving bandmembers Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic admitted they didnt know who created it.

Jacobs suit demands that Nirvanas copyright claim to the logo be removed, and his companys legal costs be recovered. Nirvanas legal team will continue to contest the case they have complained that individuals who were more familiar with the copyright registration have not yet been questioned by Jacobs lawyers.

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Swift and two other songwriters are accused of taking lyrics from a song by girl group 3LW for her hit Shake It Off

A copyright lawsuit against Taylor Swift is returning to court in the US, after an appeal overturned an earlier dismissal of the case.

Swift and her fellow songwriters Max Martin and Shellback are accused of copying lyrics from the 2001 song Players Gon Play by US girl group 3LW, for Swifts song Shake It Off.

Both songs feature the lyrics the players gonna play and the haters gonna hate. In February 2018, a federal judge said the 3LW songwriters who brought the claim, Sean Hall and Nathan Butler, did not have creative ownership over the phrases, which were deemed to be commonplace. By 2001, American popular culture was heavily steeped in the concepts of players, haters, and player haters, judge Michael Fitzgerald wrote. The concept of actors acting in accordance with their essential nature is not at all creative; it is banal.

But the successful appeal found that Fitzgerald should not have had the sole final judgment on the originality of the song. The decision will now be made by a jury.

Plagiarism claims have been made against numerous high-profile songs recently, with the latest case in the US being Truth Hurts, a song by singer and rapper Lizzo that spent seven weeks at No 1. Brothers Justin and Jeremy Raisen allege that they co-wrote the song and filed a lawsuit against Lizzo; she has countersued, saying the men did not help me write any part of the song. She did add British singer Mina Lionness to the songwriting credits, acknowledging that a viral tweet Lionness wrote was used for the songs opening line.

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The music streaming service faces a claim on behalf of artists including Neil Young and Janis Joplin as it prepares a share sale

Music streaming service Spotify has been sued by a music publishing company for $1.6bn (1.18bn), for hosting songs it allegedly doesnt have the full rights to. The news comes at an awkward moment for the tech company, which is reportedly preparing for a stock market sale.

Wixen, a Californian company that collects royalties on behalf of artists including Tom Petty, Neil Young, Janis Joplin and the Doors, alleges that Spotify took a shortcut when it cut deals with major labels to host their back catalogues.

The suit states that under the US Copyright Act, each song has two copyright claims: one to the recording, and the other to the composition. Wixen claims that Spotify didnt obtain the composition rights in their deals, and is seeking damages of $150,000 per song, for over 10,000 songs.

The company is the most successful in the music streaming business, with over 60m paying subscribers. It is reportedly valued at $19bn, and is expected to be floated on the stock market later this year.

According to news website Axios Spotify has filed documents for an initial public offering (IPO) in December. Spotify will reportedly go public under a direct listings which allows a company to sell stock without the usual investor roadshow and saves on some banking expenses.

If the company lists on the New York Stock Exchange, as expected, it would be the first to do so with a direct listing. NYSE recently changed its rules to accommodate such sales and a successful listing would likely encourage others to follow. Spotify declined to comment on the story.

Nor has the company yet commented on the suit, but it has faced similar claims in the past. In 2015, the company launched a publishing administration system to more fully recompense royalty holders, after punk label Victory Records claimed it was missing out on composition royalties, but Spotify has nevertheless faced further lawsuits since. In 2016, it paid over $20m in outstanding royalties to a number of publishers via the National Music Publishers Association, while in May 2017, it settled a lawsuit with three small publishers, including the estate of Jaco Pastorius, for over $43m.

Spotify has two outstanding lawsuits filed against it in July 2017, from publishers including Bob Gaudio of the group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing the US government over unconstitutional use of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a lawsuit on Thursday that American copyright wonks, technologists and security researchers have been hotly awaiting for nearly 20 years.

If they succeed, one of Americas most controversial technology laws will be struck down, and countries all over the world who have been pressured by the US trade representative to adopt this American rule will have to figure out whether theyll still enforce it, even after the US has given up on it.

The rule is section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1998, the anti-circumvention rule that makes it illegal to break an access control for copyrighted works. These access controls often manifest as digital rights management (DRM), and the DMCA gives them unique standing in law.

EFF is suing the US government, arguing that section 1201 of the DMCA is unconstitutional, and also that the Library of Congress and the copyright office have failed to perform their duties in the three-year DMCA 1201 exemption hearings.

What is digital rights management?

If you buy something, its yours, and you can modify, configure, or use it any way youd like, even if the manufacturer would prefer that you didnt. But the law forbids you from doing otherwise legal things if you have to tamper with the DRM to do them.

Originally, this was used exclusively by the entertainment industries: by adding DRM to DVDs, they could prevent companies from making DVD players that accepted DVDs bought abroad. Its not illegal to bring a DVD home from an overseas holiday and watch it, but if your DVD player recognises the disc as out-of-region, it is supposed to refuse to play it back, and the act of altering the DVD player to run out-of-region discs is unlawful under the DMCAs section 1201. It could even be a crime carrying a five-year prison sentence and a $500,000 fine for a first offense (the act of offering a region-free DVD player for sale, or even the neighbours kid helping you to deregionalise your DVD player, can be criminal acts).

Nike cant invoke section 1201 of the DMCA to prevent a rival company from offering replacement shoelaces for its trainers, because shoelaces and trainers arent copyrighted (or copyrightable). Photograph: Alamy

Companies can only use the DMCA if they can argue that their DRM protected a copyrighted work. Nike cant invoke section 1201 of the DMCA to prevent a rival company from offering replacement shoelaces for its trainers, because shoelaces and trainers arent copyrighted (or copyrightable). But once theres software involved, copyright enters the picture because software itself can be copyrighted.

The proliferation of smart devices has put software and potentially, the DMCA into every part of our lives. Your car is a computer that surrounds your body. Auto manufacturers use DRM to prevent independent mechanics from reading out information from broken cars and to prevent diagnostic tool-makers from making smarter diagnostic equipment. Mechanics and tool-makers who want to know whats wrong with your car have to either break the DRM (risking fines or even prison) or get the official manufacturers permission to compete, which drives up repair costs. In other words, now that theres software in your car, the DMCA can be invoked to give manufacturers a monopoly over parts, service and features for them.

And its not just cars. Every three years, the US copyright office entertains proposals for limited exemptions to section 1201 of the DMCA.

In 2015, they heard from people who have been frustrated by anti-circumvention rules as applied to voting machines (a computer we put a democracy inside of); hospital equipment (a computer we put sick people inside of); medical implants (computers we put inside our bodies); as well as critical infrastructure, financial technology and more.

Auto manufacturers use DRM to prevent independent mechanics from reading information from broken cars, so mechanics either have to pay for access and increase costs, break the DRM risking fines or even prison Photograph: Alamy

Tellingly, many of these petitioners were security experts. DRM advocates say that when a security expert discloses a defect in their products a flaw, say, that would allow strangers to watch your family through your baby monitor, or kill you by dumping all your insulin pumps medicine into your blood at once, or take control of your car over the internet and drive it, operating the brakes, steering and acceleration (all examples of things people have done or shown could be done by exploiting vulnerabilities in devices with DRM) they are violating laws that protect DRM.

These manufacturers say that the law gives them to power to determine when, if ever, the people who entrust their lives, privacy, security, votes and finances to computer-based products get to know about the defects in those products.

How is it still around?

Its been 18 years since the DMCA passed into law under then President Bill Clinton, co-sponsored by congressman Barney Frank, voted in unanimously by the Senate. The law has obvious, gross constitutional defects, so how is it still in force?

Heres the civics-class version of the relationship between the US constitution and Congress: Americas constitution limits the laws Congress can make. Congress isnt supposed to make unconstitutional laws, and when a judge finds such a law, he or she can rule that the law is invalid.

But nothing as high-stakes as law is ever as simple as that. People can disagree about whether a law is constitutional the constitution has a lot of high-flown language whose specifics have been hammered out over centuries by judges and lawyers and scholars who have fiercely debated them (and even gone to war over them). So a lawmaker might create a statute he believes to be constitutional, while a judge might rule that its not and strike it down.

Then theres the question of how these sorts of questions wind up in front of a court.

Bill Clinton passed the DMCA 18 years ago. Photograph: Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

In the years since the DMCAs passage, there have been relatively few court challenges. In one case, Universal v Corley, a movie studio successfully sued the hacker magazine 2600 for publishing computer code that could descramble a DVD.

In 2002, a technologically unsophisticated judge in the case ruled that a hacker magazine could be censored under the DMCA and was not shielded by the first amendments guarantee of free speech because the code was a form of stealing.

In the years since, the entertainment industry has been canny about its threats.

When Ed Felten a prominent computer scientist, then at Princeton University, now deputy CTO of the White House and a group of peers published a paper on defects in DRMfor music called Secure Digital Music Initiative, the record companies threatened to sue him and the technical conference where the paper was to be delivered. The Electronic Frontier Foundation stepped forward to defend Felten, and the labels beat all speed records withdrawing their threats because they understood that judges would be reluctant to give record executives a veto over the kinds of technical presentations that computer scientists could give.

At this point, you may be asking why, if the law hasnt come up in court decisions very often, does it even matter. But it does, because the few successful prosecutions under the law have been sufficient to chill all kinds of technological development and security disclosures.

The reason your computer automatically rips your old CDs and offers to move them to your mobile device and the cloud, but prompts you to buy your DVDs anew to watch them on a mobile screen, is that the DMCA has successfully intimidated every operating system company in the world into not including DVD-ripping software out of the box (those DVD-ripping programs you may have tried? Also radioactively illegal to distribute).

Dont forget all those security researchers who told the copyright office that their lawyers wouldnt let them warn us about the potentially lethal defects in all those internet of things devices were coming to rely on theres no question that section 1201 of the DMCA scares the heck out of businesses and security professionals.

The case in question

Which brings us to todays lawsuit. EFF is representing two clients: Andrew bunnie Huang, a legendary engineer with a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who made his reputation when he figured out how to install the free operating system GNU/Linux on Microsofts Xbox and published a book about it; and Matthew Green, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins and considered a heavyweight in security circles, whose research includes audits of OpenSSL and Truecrypt.

One of Huangs projects is a gadget called NeTV, which allows users to overlay images over HD videos. Huang figured out a clever way to work with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) a widely used DRM for HD videos without violating the DMCA. But he wants to expand NeTVs features in a new device called NetVCR, which will allow you to record and manipulate digital video the same way you can with analogue videos and a video recorder: record them for later, turn them into clips that you reuse in legal ways, and so on.

Green, meanwhile, wants to do security research of the sort that could raise section 1201 threats. Though the copyright office has granted some limited exemptions to the DMCA that allow security research on consumer equipment and some medical devices, Greens research includes investigating the security of industrial-grade encryption devices used to secure cryptographic keys for purposes such as processing credit card or ATM transactions.

Greens research includes investigating the security of industrial-grade encryption devices used to secure cryptographic keys for purposes such as processing credit card or ATM transactions. Photograph: Kostis Ntantamis/AFP/Getty Images

He has a grant from the National Science Foundation to investigate the security of medical record systems. He wants to investigate the security of medical devices; toll collection systems; industrial firewalls and virtual private network devices; and wireless communications systems that connect vehicles to one another and to the surrounding infrastructure. Lurking flaws in these devices pose a serious threat to the economy and hundreds of millions of people who rely on them every day, so we really want people like Green to be able to independently validate their quality (the bad guys who want to abuse those devices dont ask for permission to investigate their flaws, after all).

Why EFF is suing

Suing on behalf of Huang and Green, EFFs complaint argues that the wording of the statute requires the Library of Congress to grant exemptions for all conduct that is legal under copyright, including actions that rely on fair use, when that conduct is hindered by the ban on circumvention.

Critically, the supreme court has given guidance on this question intwo rulings, Eldred and Golan, explaining how copyright law itself is constitutional even though it places limits on free speech; copyright is, after all, a law that specifies who may utter certain combinations of words and other expressive material.

The supreme court held that through copyrights limits, such as fair use, it accommodates the first amendment. The fair-use safety valve is joined by the idea/expression dichotomy, a legal principle that says that copyright only applies to expressions of ideas, not the ideas itself.

In the 2015 DMCA 1201 ruling, the Library of Congress withheld or limited permission for many uses that the DMCA blocks, but which copyright itself allows activities that the supreme court has identified as the basis for copyrights very constitutionality.

If these uses had been approved, people such as Huang and Green would not face criminal jeopardy. Because they werent approved, Huang and Green could face legal trouble for doing these legitimate things.

Its a complicated story, existing at the intersection of law, technology and information security, realms that are hard enough to get your arms around on their own, let alone in combination. But that very complexity honestly, that very boringness has allowed this anti-circumvention rule from the DMCA to fester and metastasize into devices that are taking over the physical world.

EFFs lawsuit could take years to be finally decided.

Along the way, companies, entrepreneurs, members of the public and US trading partners are all going to have to decide which side theyre on, and whether its worth the risk of tolerating DMCA 1201 and its international cousins, or if its better to unlock value, to thwart rent-seeking monopolists, to bring transparency and accountability to the design of crucial products and categories of products.

Today, EFF took the first step toward a future where we are allowed to know whether our devices are fit for purpose, where we are allowed to reconfigure them to suit our needs, to help one another get more use out of our property.

Now, its up to all of us.

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